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How can we overcome the challenges facing early years practitioners and change the future of childcare?

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Purnima Tanuku at the NDNA conference

Purnima Tanuku: The First Five Years Count  

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There can be no doubt that our sector is facing a workforce crisis on a scale not seen before. By celebrating the sector and showing why the First Five Years Count we can start to take control of some of the challenges we see. 

We know that a highly qualified, skilled, and motivated workforce are crucial to providing the best possible care, learning opportunities, and therefore, outcomes for children. A 2019 Oxford University study confirmed that staff qualifications, effective Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and better staff to child ratios were the key drivers in delivering higher quality early education and childcare. 

However, when we speak to providers the message is clear, 90% of employers who have tried to recruit Level 3 staff say it is difficult or very difficult. For years NDNA’s workforce surveys with providers and practitioners have painted a picture of people leaving the sector and levels of higher qualified staff dropping. At the same time, research by the Anna Freud Centre has revealed that 52% of early years staff cited workload and work-life balance as a source of stress or unhappiness at work.

Nurseries and providers are telling us that they would love to pay their staff at the rate they deserve but are hamstrung by government underfunding, with a staggering 95% of members telling us that funding rates do not cover their costs.  

Continuing the fight 

As you would expect from us, we will never stop fighting for improved funding and investment in early years, for support to the workforce and for greater recognition of the sector. But, with all these challenges on the table, and many elements out of the hands of providers and practitioners – where do we find our positivity and hope for the future?

At NDNA we all know that up and down the country, there are amazing things happening in your settings every day. As a sector, we have waited long enough for the true recognition and celebration of early years to come from Governments or to be seen in the media.

We’re going to shout from the rooftops about the importance of children’s early years; why the things happening in settings make such a difference and how inspiring everyone working in early years, from apprentices to managers, really are.

The First Five Years count

Our campaign, First Five Years Count, is aimed at increasing awareness and understanding of the importance of high-quality early childhood education and care for children’s development, wellbeing, and outcomes. We want parents to understand and really value the work that happens in early years settings. As the Duchess of Cambridge’s work in this area has shown, only one in five people truly appreciate how crucial that 0 – 5 period is for our children.

With a focus on the workforce to come, it will also cement the perception of the early years professionals as educators of young children. By raising the profile of the amazing people working in the sector we aim to address part of the recruitment and retention crisis and boost the positive feedback for the workforce.

There’s no other job like it in the world, where else can you be an astronaut, a dancer, a chef, and an explorer all in the same day? When you shape a child’s learning and how they experience the world, you’re literally making a difference that will last a lifetime.

We are asking practitioners to send us their testimonials and also take part in videos talking about their experiences in early years settings. Why do they choose early years? What is their favourite part of the day? How do they feel about shaping so many children’s lives? How many parents have thanked them for helping their child? 

We also want people who might be thinking about a career in early years to be inspired by our current workforce. We want to attract students and high school pupils, but also career changers, men and over 50s who are looking for something more rewarding, challenging, or an opportunity to make a difference.

We know these changes won’t happen overnight, but we need to start; and start positively. Getting as many people as possible to spread the word and influence society‘s attitudes towards early education and care should ultimately result in better outcomes for our children. Attracting more talented staff into the sector – and truly recognising those already working in it so they stay – improves our children’s lives and boosts the economy. 

So please – sign up to our campaign, share our messages and your positive experiences and look out for more resources to show support for your early years sector. 

Purnima Tanuku headshot

Article written by Purnima Tanuku

CEO of the NDNA (National Day Nurseries Association), an award-winning charity and membership association supporting nurseries, early years settings and their workforce

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